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Insight into cell metabolism will help interpret PETs, MRIs

ITHACA, N.Y. -- By discovering a crucial piece of submicroscopic information about how the brain converts fuel into energy for neurons, Cornell University biophysicists have gleaned new insights into brain cell metabolism that will allow neurologists to better interpret data from such diagnostic tests as positron emission tomography (PET) scans and a specialized magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test.

The discovery uncovers a key piece of information that's been missing for years about cell metabolism -- how the compound beta-nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) interacts in the mitochondria. The researchers discovered that some molecules of NADH are bound to other molecules in the mitochondria, while some are free in two different conformations. Whether NADH is bound or free affects how much it fluoresces in diagnostic tests -- and not knowing this has led scientists in the past to misjudge the amount of activity in neural cells.

The findings, published as the paper of the week in the July 1 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry (Vol. 280), are based on research in the biophysics lab directed by Watt W. Webb, the S.B. Eckert Professor in Engineering at Cornell. The journal's cover illustration was designed by Webb with images from his biophysics lab by Karl Kasischke, Harshad Vishwasrao and Dan Dombeck.

Vishwasrao, the lead author of the paper and a former graduate student of Webb's, was able to differentiate between bound and the two forms of free states of NADH molecules based on the rate that molecules rotate, or don't rotate, over nanoseconds of time. He used a technique developed by Ahmed Heikal (now of Pennsylvania State University) in Webb's lab.

NADH concentration has been used as an indicator for cell metabolism for some 50 years, but harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation were required to induce the fluorescence needed for the measurements. Webb and his colleagues, however, devised a technique several years ago that uses
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Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
bpf2@cornell.edu
607-254-8093
Cornell University News Service
11-Jul-2005


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